Back in 2015, I took the leap and bought this flat for £195,000 with my friend Steph. We exchanged on Halloween. It's a two-bedroom flat located in a 1920s tenement; there are still remnants of a chimney breast that ran though the centre of the building in the living room. We are over a lively parade of shops, on a busy main road in Leyton.
Steph and I met while working in fashion events and lived together for years before deciding to commit to buying a place together, which was her very good idea (she remembers that I was making brown rice pasta when she broached the subject – a very important detail). At the time I didn’t think I'd have even a slither of a chance of buying a place and so I was unbelievably lucky that she pulled me into her plan.
Buying together meant we could pool our small salaries for a mortgage but from the outset we knew we couldn't be fussy about the location. Both being from a production background, we approached the search like a job hunt, looking at 10 places in one month. I found this flat on Rightmove and thought it sounded too good to be true – just five minutes from our previous home in Clapton, when we thought we'd have to move much further out. When we arrived, the hallway of the building was terrible and in need of a lot of work (and still is) and we thought it would be a write-off even before we got into the flat. However, when we walked in, we knew it was the one, even if it would need a lot of love to renovate it! The following Monday, we made an offer and it all started from there.
When we got the keys the décor wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t us: standard laminate floors and magnolia walls. From the beginning, we were on the same page about how we wanted it to be, tearing everything out in the first week and starting from scratch. This was possibly a little ambitious as it meant we couldn't move in for almost three months; at one stage we didn't have access to a toilet, so had to buy tea and cakes to use the one in the café downstairs! Originally, using our production expertise, we had naively thought that if we timed the work well we would be in, in no time at all. We didn't expect that finding the right people would be so difficult or that the wrong people would delay things quite as much as they did. On a few occasions we hired tradesmen to do projects and we actually got ghosted, meaning whatever progress we were making would be stalled whilst we frantically looked for someone new. Throughout this time I was living with my uncle in Chingford and Steph was in a box room at our old house in Clapton as everything was taking so much longer than we expected!
The renovation wasn't easy. We were complete novices and encountered some horrors along the way – workmen ghosted us regularly, opting to take bigger jobs, and a terrible plumber (with a misleadingly trustworthy disposition) did such a bad job in our bathroom that we had to have the pipework completely redone - turns out he had used the completely wrong joints so none of the pipes were connected! We restored the floors throughout, sanding the original boards in bedrooms and living room, stripping almost 100 years of cement off the red terracotta tiles in the kitchen, and painting the concrete floor in the hallway a light shade of grey. The cement remover we used on the kitchen floor burnt holes in practically every pair of socks I had!
Even though we had our fair share of setbacks, we were really lucky. The renovations obviously started to cost more than we'd hoped for so we started a spreadsheet to manage things; having to engage a second plumber and deciding to restore the floors were unexpected costs but without our family's help it would have been much worse. My dad is a cabinet builder and created the kitchen (to our exact specifications) largely using offcuts from his workshop in Huddersfield. Steph’s parents tiled the bathroom, me and Steph tiled the floors, my mum handled the soft furnishings and everyone including my uncles got involved with sanding the floors, which I think Steph and I would agree was the lowest point of the renovation... So. Much. Dust! Having these amazing resources on hand gave us the luxury of building everything the way wanted it, we never would have been able to afford a kitchen like the one we have if my dad didn't have the experience he does! It was a great reminder of how beneficial it is to ask friends and family for help when taking on a big project like this!
eBay, Huddersfield vintage market and antique fairs like Newark became our best friends. Among other things, we sourced brass art deco taps, a farmhouse sink, a sweet 'cabinet of curiosity' for the bathroom (filled with nonsense trinkets) and an old-school desk to sit our bathroom sink on.
All the teak furniture is G Plan and ercol from eBay; the armchair in the living room was upholstered by my mum. We purchased the sofa in the depths of the renovation, on a cold Sunday in January when we’d popped into town for some much-needed motivation and inspiration. Way over budget, it wasn’t our most sensible decision but it was just the upper we needed! It's Italian velvet and was the Pantone colour of the year 2015 (I think), which we didn't know when we bought it. Art leans against the walls in the hallway and living room – we meant to put it up but grew to like it on the floor, and I change it around every so often.
Because of the size of the flat we knew we had to keep to a simple colour palette, pairing rooms. The bedrooms and the toilet are dark (Farrow & Ball Hague Blue and Studio Green) and the other rooms are light, with accent colours borrowed from the darker rooms – the cupboards in the kitchen are Studio Green, for example.
The flat is still a little rough around the edges and there is work still to do but I now understand that building a home is a journey – there’s always something to do, improve or fix! I have learned that I need to make a space my own; cookie-cutter new builds are great but the process of changing a space is very much for me. I like to muse about taps and light fittings and can’t wait to do it all again with everything I’ve learned this time around.
Buying with anyone should not be taken lightly and even though we had lived together we still had our tricky moments along the way. But it has worked out really well, mostly because we have been honest with each other and entered into this union with our eyes wide open. Steph now lives with her fiancée in Upton Park and a singer, Corinne, has moved into her room; when we decided to buy together we always said that it shouldn't hold either of us in one place, and her moving on shows that we are still on the same page.
What I love about this flat is that everything in it has a story, from the circus letter 'M' down to the doorknobs. I think that’s the greatest pleasure I’ve found with owning – so much effort goes into making a house a home, and it feels like that’s in direct proportion to the satisfaction you reap from it.